Kosovo citizens are voting Sunday in local elections, the first since its unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008.
A Kosovar Albanian casts his ballot at a polling station in Pristina, Kosovo, on Nov. 15, 2009. (Xinhua/Astrit Ibrahimi)
Voting started at 7 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) and is due to be closed at 7 p.m. (1800 GMT). Over 1.56 million people are eligible to elect the mayors of the municipalities and municipal assemblies.
Central Election Commission (CEC) authorities said the polling started in time and without serious irregularities.
The head of the CEC, Nesrin Lushta said that 98.49 percent of the polling centers were opened in due time, adding “1.51 percent of planned voting centers was not opened mainly in the municipalities in the north.”
CEC faced some obstacles in opening the polling centers in northern Serb-dominated municipalities of Zubin Potok, Zvecan dhe Leposavic.
Lushta said that all polling stations in other Serb localities are opened, and there is a solid participation of Serbs.
More than 70 political entities, 21 of them from Serb community, are certified for the elections in 36 municipalities.
Three new municipalities, Gracanica, Ranillug and Klokot in central and eastern Kosovo, will be established on the basis of these elections.
Security is tight especially in Serb-dominated areas, and mobile election’s teams are involved to help people vote since many voting centers are not opened.
Around 5,000 police members are engaged to secure a proper environment for the voting process, said Baki Kelani, Kosovo police spokesman.
More than 21,000 observers, mainly locals, are monitoring the process. A team from the European Parliament, headed by MP Doris Pack is also monitoring the elections.
International representatives and Kosovo leaders have called on Serb community to take part in the elections, and take the future in their hands.
But, Albanian opposition group “Seld-determination” has discouraged people to vote, saying election gives too much power to some municipalities which might be controlled by Serbs.
The Serbian government recently warned Kosovo Serbs that the coming local elections were in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Serbian Constitution, announcing that it would not cooperate with Serbs elected into local government bodies in Kosovo.
According to this year’s statistics, Serbs make up 7 percent of Kosovo’s population of 1.8 million.
A breakaway province of Serbia, ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in February 2008. However, Serbia has vowed it would never recognize Kosovo’s independence, regarding the move illegal and in contrary with international law.